There was endless chatter about Donald Trump’s meetings with Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin. But to this day, none of us know what was said during those private conversations. Now we learn this:
The White House has suspended the practice of publishing public summaries of President Donald Trump’s phone calls with world leaders, two sources with knowledge of the situation tell CNN, bringing an end to a common exercise from Republican and Democratic administrations…
Official descriptions of the President’s calls with foreign leaders — termed “readouts” in Washington parlance — offer administrations the chance to characterize in their own terms the diplomacy conducted at the highest levels between countries. While news is rarely contained in the rote, often dry descriptions, they do offer the only official account that a phone call took place.
First and foremost, that kind of secrecy allows Trump to avoid any form of accountability. But it also invites speculation about what was said. Richard Haas suggests that this breeds mistrust, instability and uncertainty.
South Korea and Japan saw their interests compromised in Singapore, and NATO allies fear theirs were set aside in Helsinki. With members of Congress and even the executive branch in the dark about what was discussed, effective follow-up is all but impossible. Future administrations will feel less bound by agreements they knew nothing about, making the United States less consistent and reliable over time…
In such cases, summits merely increase the odds that diplomacy will fail, in the process contributing to geopolitical instability and uncertainty rather than mitigating it.
For a president who deludes himself with the idea that unpredictability is an asset in his position, creating instability and uncertainty is seen as an asset rather than a liability. Of course, it is hard to ignore the fact that it also aligns perfectly with the goals of Vladimir Putin.
In writing about the fanfare coming from the White House suggesting that the trade war with the European Union is over, Jonathan Chait identifies another reason for the secrecy.
The cycle begins with bellicose Trumpian threats designed to increase American leverage. This leads to negotiations, which produce an impossibly ambitious and thoroughly vague “solution” that allows Trump to boast that he has averted a crisis of his own making.
Brendan Nyhan laid out the steps.
1. Present distorted version of status quo.
2. Create crisis over distorted version of status quo.
3. Restore status quo (often at substantial cost).
4. Take credit for status quo.
(See also: North Korea.)https://t.co/9ijyuRJFza pic.twitter.com/LgdjVRrGUu
— Brendan Nyhan (@BrendanNyhan) July 26, 2018
In other words, all of this secrecy about what goes on between Trump and foreign leaders is designed to limit any form of accountability and set up a delusional narrative in which the president is “winning,” when he is doing nothing more than sustain the status quo, sometimes at substantial cost to the U.S.